Ecuadorian oil company Petroecuador says it is shutting down gas flares in the Amazon in an effort to meet a court deadline, but progress has been slow for nearby residents who claim the flares cause cancer and other diseases.
A court in the province of Sucumbios last year ordered Petroecuador and several private operators to shut down, by March 2023, hundreds of flares that burn natural gas emitted during oil production when there is no equipment to capture it.
Burning released 400 million tons of greenhouse gases worldwide last year, according to the World Bank, and researchers are warning of health problems ranging from cancer to respiratory illness associated with the practice.
The state-owned company intends to find a private partner to invest in the technology needed to capture the 65 million cubic feet of gas vented daily by flares.
Petroecuador said 15 companies have shown interest, including Promigas SA and Gran Tierra Energy.
“Part of the capturing process is trying to gradually and progressively eliminate the flares within the court’s timeframe,” Petroecuador’s head of projects Jaime Garzon told Reuters.
Garzon said the company will begin halting flares in populated areas from September to meet the deadline, and switching off flares in rural areas for two to three years, well ahead of the eight-year deadline set by the court.
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According to former Energy Minister Fernando Santos, such infrastructure could be quickly installed if the right company wins the tender.
“It’s more a technical question than an investment one and if an experienced company wins the tender, they won’t have any problem,” he said.
Petroecador already processes about 35 million cubic feet of by-product gas each day for residential use or power generation at its facilities, but hopes to eventually process all of the gas emitted from 391 flares, saving $400 million a year.
In April, Ecuador’s energy ministry apologized to residents for the delays in putting out the flares.
Its private operators have about 66 flare units, but most of that gas is already being used to generate electricity, according to the Energy Department.
For the inhabitants of the provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, change is still slow.
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